Ramanuja Against Shankara’s Intellectualism

In his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras, Shankara (8th-9th c.) insists, “That the knowledge of Brahman refers to something which is not a thing to be done, and therefore is not concerned either with the pursuit or the avoidance of any object, is the very thing we admit; for just that constitutes our glory, that as soon as we comprehend Brahman, all our duties come to an end and all our work is over” (1.1.4). Vice, he might have said is ignorance, and virtue is knowledge. Here’s a further intimacy between Shankara and Plato, to set alongside his adoption of the “Meno-thesis.”

Shankara’s great critic, Ramanuja (1017-1137 AD), will have none of it, and in his own commentary on the Vedanta Sutra, he answers Shankara’s intellectualism with a retort worthy of Aristotle, and perhaps indeed more Thomist still: “The doctrine, again, that ignorance is put an end to by the cognition of Brahman being the Self of all can in no way be upheld, for as bondage is something real it cannot be put an end to by knowledge. How, we ask, can any one assert that bondage — which consists in the experience of pleasure and pain caused by the connexion of selves with bodies of various kinds, a connexion springing from good or evil actions — is something false, unreal? … The cessation of such bondage is to be obtained only through the grace of the highest Self pleased by the devout meditation of the worshipper” (I.i.1).

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This entry was posted in Aristotle, Epistemology, Hinduism, Plato, Ramanuja, Shankara, Thomas Aquinas, Virtue and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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